Why I Taught My Tots Good Manners (& Ignored Those Who Said Not to)

I don’t know about you, but I find that there’s nothing more earsplitting (or annoying) than having a young kid shouting for “Milk, milk, more milk!” So, from the minute my twins started putting together two-word sentences, I started asking them to say “please” and “thank you.” Sure, part of it was to at least soften their loud demands, but mostly, it was because that’s how I was raised. My parents had always insisted that we use those magic words, to the point that it almost became automatic. To this day, I’ll actually cringe if I forget to use “please” or “thank you” because any request just feels awkward without it.

When I began asking my kids to use the polite language, several people told me it was a mistake. Some said it was silly to make them say things that they didn’t really understand, and others said it might actually stand in the way of them creating real sentences. Still, I didn’t care. I felt that courtesy should become a habit, and that they would understand what it all meant as they got older.


I think I was right! Maybe they didn’t really know what it meant when they were 2-years-old, but now that they’re 3, they absolutely do. Yes, for the most part, I have to remind them when we’re out at a restaurant, usually with a gentle reminder, “How do you ask?” or “What do you say?” But when they do ask nicely, or give thanks, the server or the store clerk is usually so appreciative and acknowledges it with big smiles, or even says, “Thank you for asking so nicely.” It’s positive reinforcement for my boys, who are now beginning to understand how good it feels to treat people warmly. Just recently on vacation, I watched as all of these kids kept going up and grabbing towels from a staff member by the pool. Not one child even acknowledged him! But my 3-year-olds said, “Thank you!” in their sweet, little voices, and the guy looked at me and said, “Wow, that was so great.” I guess he doesn’t hear it enough.

And when my kids aren’t acting like wild animals with selective hearing, they can be very sweet and polite with me as well. Sometimes, unprompted, they’ll just say something like, “Thank you for making Mickey nuggets, Mommy. I like Mickey nuggets.” For reals! And after loudly demanding more cheddar crackers, all I have to say is, “How do you ask?” and they’ll soften their tone and sweetly try again: “Can I have more crackers puhleeeeeease?” It sounds crazy, but just those little niceties make me feel more appreciated, and I imagine it makes others feel the same way.

See, that’s exactly why I’m trying to raise polite kids — because it makes other people feel good. It makes people feel respected and valued, whether they’re a server in a restaurant, the woman who brought over a coloring book, or a generous family member. I’m not doing this so that everyone thinks, “Oh, what nice boys.” It’s not about them or me. It’s because I believe in treating people with kindness, gratitude and respect and I want my boys to treat people with kindness, gratitude and respect. And, I believe, you have to start these habits when they’re young.

No, my kids are definitely not the best-behaved, they definitely have trouble listening, and they often whine, grunt, and throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want. Still, they will look an adult in the eye, acknowledge him or her, and express appreciation. That’s one of my favorite things about my boys, and one of the smartest parenting decisions I’ve ever made. Oh, and thanks for listening.

Photo: Getty